Sleep is Essential for Health

Good quality sleep is one of the most essential ingredients for well-being.  It occurs more often than you would think that patients come in with a main concern of not being able to sleep.  I am going to discuss reasons for an interrupted sleep pattern beyond poor sleep hygiene and taking melatonin.

Many of my patients have anxiety and a heightened stress response that I believe is a major contributing factor to having trouble sleeping. If the brain is constantly “on” from stress at work, traffic, home life, it produces a lot of excitatory hormones like dopamine and cortisol.  In addition to this, caffeine and sugar can also play a role in increasing these hormones even more.  At the end of the day, these hormones can still be elevated interfering with the brain’s ability to relax and get a restful sleep. It is important to limit intake of sugar and caffeine to 0-1 servings/day.  At the end of the day, practicing some relaxation techniques like taking a bath, listening to music, or going on a long walk can help bring down the stress hormones. 

Another factor that plays a role in restful sleep is proper nutrition.  The brain can actually be deficient in nutrients like magnesium, which is found in dark leafy greens and nuts and seeds.  Protein is a very crucial part in making proper neurotransmitters, which balance the high stress hormones.  Most people need at least 40 grams/day of protein if not more, which can come from poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, or eggs.  Talk to your doctor about how much protein you should have. Some people do benefit from some supplemental amino acids or really are melatonin deficient, and proper intake questions can help determine this.

If you find yourself waking up or snoring, or your partner has relayed this to you, it may be helpful to get a sleep study.  A sleep study can help rule out Sleep Apnea.  Untreated Sleep Apnea has many consequences because you are not getting enough oxygen to the brain.  Short-term consequences may include feeling not rested on waking up, fatigue, weight gain, and depression.  Long-term consequences may include stroke, hypertension, and early brain degeneration. The treatment for Sleep Apnea is to wear a CPAP mask, and the diagnosis can be determined at a sleep clinic usually by a Pulmonologist. 

Another very common reason for trouble sleeping especially in women is hormone imbalance.  Women around age 40-45 start having a decrease in progesterone, leading to perimenopausal symptoms.  This can definitely cause more insomnia as well as heightened anxiety and more body pain.  In addition to this, around age 50 or so, the estrogen also drops low causing night sweats and hot flashes that are very uncomfortable during the night.  There are herbal and bioidentical treatments for hormone imbalances.

In addition to all of these reasons that sleep could be affected, I feel it is also important to mention pain.  If a person is in pain, the inflammation can go up in the evening.  Finding the cause of the person’s underlying pain would be the first step into helping them feel more comfortable at night.  Sleep is when the body does all its healing and repairs cellular damage.  It is important to not only get about 6-8 hours per night but to make those hours top quality and restful.

Dr. Apfelbaum is a Naturopathic Doctor at Tree of Health Integrative Medicine clinic in Woodinville, WA.

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